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The Pink Spotlight: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Feel like you’re seeing the color pink more than usual this month? There’s a good reason; October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a crucial time not just for survivors and fighters, but for everyone in our community.

Awareness is our first line of defense against breast cancer, and the second is early detection. As a result, this common disease has justifiably taken center stage in global health discussions. But let’s make sure we’re talking about it here locally in Avery and Mitchell counties too. The American Cancer Society estimates that there are more than 67,600 new cases of breast cancer so far in 2023 in North Carolina. That’s why this month is a great time to address actions you can take to protect yourself.

Understanding Breast Cancer: The Basics and Risk Factors

Breast cancer occurs when cells in the breast start to grow uncontrollably, forming what might be felt as a lump or seen on an X-ray as a tumor. Many elements play into its development, from hormonal and genetic causes to environmental factors. As women age, the risk heightens. It’s also worth noting that while family history can make one more susceptible, many diagnosed don’t have a familial connection. Lifestyle choices, such as diet and alcohol intake, as well as prolonged exposure to specific environments, can further influence risk. Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer in U.S. women behind skin cancer.

However, with advancements in treatment and an emphasis on early detection, survival rates have significantly improved.

Breast Cancer Self-Examination

For the wonderful women in Avery and Mitchell County, NC, taking an active role in your health is always empowering. While self-exams for breast cancer aren’t formally recommended as a primary screening tool because they have not been shown to have a large impact on early detection rates, being familiar with the normal look and feel of your breasts can be beneficial. It helps you notice any changes should they arise.

Since you still need to visit your doctor for breast exams and mammograms regularly, it’s a good idea to ask one of these professionals to guide you through any self-exam steps at your next appointment.

Generally, breast cancer self-exams involve a systematic way of checking your breasts. Here are some of those checks outlined:

Visual Examination

  • Position yourself before a mirror, letting your arms rest naturally at your sides.
  • Notice any differences in your breasts’ size, contour, or alignment.
  • Notice any dimpling, puckering, redness, or scaliness of your skin.
  • Raise your arms above your head and look for the same changes.

Physical Examination (While Standing or Sitting)

  • Using the pads of your three middle fingers, apply varying pressure to feel different levels of your breast tissue.
  • Move your fingers in small circles.
  • Cover your breast area, from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage.

Examination While Lying Down

  • Lie down with a pillow under one shoulder and an arm behind your head.
  • Use the same finger technique as above.

Check the Nipple

  • Gently squeeze the nipple between your thumb and forefinger and check for any discharge.

Underarm Check (While Sitting or Standing)

  • Lower your arm to let the tissue in your underarm area relax.
  • Check your underarm area for any lumps.

Remember, these steps are for general guidance. It’s important to get proper instruction from a healthcare professional, always report any unusual findings immediately, and continue regularly scheduling exams with your doctor.

A big part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month is highlighting the life-saving power of early screening procedures like mammograms

Mammograms: A Key Tool in Breast Cancer Detection

A big part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month is highlighting the life-saving power of early screening procedures like mammograms. The term “mammogram” may sound technical, but at its core, it’s a specialized X-ray focused exclusively on the breasts. The importance of this procedure cannot be overstated—it’s a frontline defense in identifying early stages of breast cancer, often pinpointing potential issues before any symptoms manifest, during a time when treatment outcomes are most favorable.

Who Should Consider Mammograms and How Often?

Women aged 40 and above are typically advised to undergo a mammogram every one to two years. That said, individual factors, such as personal health records, family histories, and specific health concerns, may necessitate more frequent mammograms or even an earlier start.

Every woman’s journey is unique, making it imperative to consult with a healthcare provider about the appropriate timing and regularity of mammograms. If there’s a history of breast cancer in your family or other risk factors, your physician might recommend an adjusted schedule or additional diagnostic tests.

For women’s health services available in Avery and Mitchell County, NC, please refer to Toe River Health’s Women’s Health page.

breast cancer awareness month is all about bridging gaps in knowledge and empowering you to be proactive in the fight against this disease.

Frequently Asked Questions: What You Need to Know This Breast Cancer Awareness Month

So far, we’ve defined breast cancer, covered self-exams, and described mammograms, but there is so much more to the discussion of breast cancer. Because this topic is so important for women’s health, we’ve outlined a few more frequently asked questions you might have on your mind:

1. What are the first signs or symptoms of breast cancer that I should look for?

Some people don’t experience symptoms at all. That’s why self-examination alone is not an effective way to detect breast cancer. However, those with early signs may experience a lump in their breast or underarms, swelling or thickening of the breast, or unexplained breast pain.

2. Can men get breast cancer?

While breast cancer is commonly associated with women’s health, men can also develop this disease. Although it’s rarer in men, any changes in a man’s breast should be immediately reported to healthcare professionals, especially if there’s a known family history of the condition.

3. Are mammograms painful?

Mammograms are quick procedures that often take no more than a few moments. While some women report that mammograms are uncomfortable or marginally painful, the sensation should not last long. If you’re concerned about having a mammogram, we recommend simply discussing your reservations with your provider. We’re more than happy to take any of your mammogram questions!

4. What’s the difference between benign and malignant tumors?

Benign tumors aren’t cancerous and remain localized in just one part of the body, while malignant tumors are cancerous and can spread to other areas of the body.

After sorting through these questions and reading this blog, we hope you’ve gained a better understanding of breast cancer as a whole. After all, breast cancer awareness month is all about bridging gaps in knowledge and empowering you to be proactive in the fight against this disease.

And remember—testing and screening is crucial for women aged 40 and above. Schedule your next mammogram and/or clinical exam today!